Considered in isolation, there was nothing particularly eventful about 41-year-old Nicole Falkingham’s appearance at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on October 31 last year — though the glamorous architect’s wife certainly cut a more elegant figure than the usual petty criminals in court that day.
After hearing a charge of theft read out against her — Mrs Falkingham was accused of stealing £37,000 worth of goods, including a laptop and watches, from her husband Jonathan — she was told her case was being transferred to Liverpool Crown Court.
Nicole, who separated acrimoniously from her husband in June last year, was due to appear in court again next month. But as the date of her crown court hearing approached, friends says she was increasingly angry about the position she had found herself in.
Last week, however, an unimaginably tragic chain of events culminated in Nicole being found frozen to death in the back of a friend’s car after a long and heavy drinking session with friends at a Liverpool wine bar.
Toxicology reports revealed she had suffered hypothermia and acute alcohol intoxication.
Police have questioned a couple who went to collect Nicole from the Vinci wine bar last Thursday night on suspicion of manslaughter. They were also questioned about the cultivation of cannabis. The pair have been bailed pending further inquiries.
For those who knew her, Nicole’s sudden death has stirred up deeper questions about how things went so badly wrong for a woman who appeared to be enjoying a charmed life.
As the beautiful wife of Jonathan Falkingham, co-founder of Urban Splash, an award-winning architectural company in the North of England, Nicole belonged to the wealthy clique of professionals who dominated Liverpool’s social scene.
The couple, known as ‘property royalty’, were regulars at some of the city’s trendiest bars and clubs. Twice a year they threw lavish, catered parties at their home — a 17th-century farmhouse that Nicole’s husband transformed from a derelict shell into a £1 million designer home.
Nicole was devoted to Jonathan’s two children, 14-year-old Ella, from a previous relationship, and Lucas, 13, from a previous marriage. The children were attendants at Nicole and Jonathan’s wedding in 2008 and were regular visitors to their home. The four of them went skiing together as a family.
The Falkinghams led a glamorous and affluent life in which they worked hard and partied hard. But their marriage — which was Nicole’s third and Jonathan’s second — was not as blissful as it seemed on the surface.
According to one friend, Nicole was desperate to have a baby but had failed to conceive. ‘She loved kids, so it was really sad that she couldn’t have any of her own,’ she says. ‘Jonny was under pressure at work, the business was faring badly, and there were tensions between them because she continued to spend his money willy-nilly.’
Nicole’s arrest on August 18 last year on a charge of stealing her husband’s property showed how desperate she had become about the breakdown of her marriage. The couple had separated in mid-June last year, and both had embarked on new relationships at the time of the theft.
According to three sources who spoke to the Mail this week, Nicole not only took her husband’s laptop but also hacked into his emails, and forwarded one ‘embarrassing’ email — said to have been sent to a wealthy neighbour — to everyone in his address book.
A source said: ‘Nicole was so mad, she sent it to all the contacts in his address book. Lots of his business contacts got the email, as did most members of staff at Urban Splash. It was pretty embarrassing.’
Another source at Urban Splash confirms this. ‘Jonathan and Nicole were going through a very messy, bitter divorce that had exploded into the public arena. Apparently, Nicole found some emails her husband had sent to a neighbour. She was absolutely livid.
‘She was so annoyed, she forwarded the emails to loads of employees at Urban Splash. It was a major embarrassment for Jonathan.’
A fellow property developer adds: ‘Jonathan was absolutely furious. That’s when the gloves really came off, and their split became total war.
‘She told friends they were in a bitter divorce, and there were rumours galore about affairs.’
At Oak Farm, the award-winning property in the Otterspool area of Liverpool where the Falkinghams lived, there were signs that all was not well. Friends say Nicole had long disliked living there, and not only because they had been burgled several times.
As long ago as 2005, Nicole expressed reservations about the house. ‘It’s very fortress-like. It sort of says don’t come near me,’ she said. ‘It’s not a house that puts its arms around you and gives you a hug.
‘Do I sound like I hate it? It’s incomparable to anywhere I’ve ever lived before.’
The house was certainly a far cry from Nicole’s humble beginnings. Born in October 1971, Nicola Paulette — she later changed her name to Nicole — was the daughter of painter and decorator Kevin Mather and his wife Linda.
Her father was just 16 years old when he married Linda, who was 20 and pregnant. Nicole’s childhood home was among the densely packed terrace houses of Liverpool’s Old Swan district — a world away from the palatial home on the other side of the city where she ended up living.
Her parents divorced and her mother remarried, to a police officer, but Linda died aged 45 from cirrhosis of the liver when Nicole was 26 and still married to her first husband.
After a stint as a sales assistant at Marks & Spencer, Nicole was working as a receptionist at Urban Splash when she met architect Jonathan Falkingham, who had graduated with a first-class honours degree from Liverpool University.
Nicole became his personal assistant and in 2003 they began dating.
A source close to the couple said: ‘They would go everywhere and do everything together. He was always taking her across the country to meetings, and it wasn’t long before people realised that something was going on.’
She became the boss’s wife but remained popular with staff. ‘She was a lovely person,’ one source says. ‘She was a bit mental, a real party animal, but always great to be around.
‘Even after she married Jonny, she remained down-to-earth. She was never snooty and always found time to ask people about their own lives.
‘They seemed a solid couple. People were surprised when they split.’
Jonathan Falkingham co-founded Urban Splash in 1993, and for many years it was at the forefront of property development in the North-West, renovating decaying former industrial mills and warehouses into exclusive loft-style apartments and executive homes.
The company was widely credited with kick-starting the trend for urban living in cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol.
But the recession led to a slowdown in the property market, and last September the company posted pre-tax losses of £9.3 million, and debts of £234 million in its latest accounts.
Both before and after her relationship with Jonathan Falkingham, Nicole was a fixture on Liverpool’s social scene. One friend recalls an occasion, ten years ago, when he found her distressed and crying at the bar in Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre after the break-up of a previous relationship.
He says: ‘She looked terrible, and we went over to see if she was all right. She had been crying, and she said she had been sitting in there all day on her own.
‘Her long-term boyfriend at the time, a manager at Marks & Spencer, had apparently dumped her, and she seemed distraught. We ended up spending the night with her getting absolutely plastered.’
More recently, Nicole appeared to be moving on with her life after her split from Jonathan. The couple reached an out-of-court financial settlement before Christmas, and were said to be on a more ‘amicable’ footing.
Bill Maynard, a former Urban Splash director, says: ‘Nicole had a tough time with the separation and she was very upset, but she seemed to be moving on.
‘She’d been off the drink for a couple of weeks, and it just seems like what happened that final night was bad luck.’
He says Jonathan is devastated by his estranged wife’s death. ‘I have spoken to him, and he is in a terrible way. He’s so shocked by what’s happened.’
In a statement released this week, a spokesperson for Jonathan Falkingham said he and Nicole’s friends and family ‘are totally devastated by her tragic and untimely passing. This is an incredibly difficult time for everybody involved.’
Despite recent changes in her life, friends say Nicole appeared to be holding everything together in recent weeks, and had had a new boyfriend for the past eight months.
Certainly there was no sign that she was hell-bent on self-destruction. Even if she was drinking to forget, no one could have predicted that her night out with friends would end so tragically.
A family friend says: ‘Nicole was devastated by the break-up. What she’s gone through is horrific.
‘She had a tragic life. Her mum died when she was young, and she desperately wanted to have children but couldn’t.
‘But she was a special person, and everyone who met her remembered her. She was a one-off who really stood out from the crowd.
‘Her death is a tragedy for everyone who knew her.’
On the night she died, staff at the wine bar where Nicole had been drinking with four friends since 4pm say she suddenly became ‘comatose’ after drinking several glasses of wine.
One employee said: ‘I’ve seen plenty of people get drunk, but I have never seen someone turn as quickly as that. She said she was starting to feel sleepy, then she just went. Her head went right back. I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried to talk to her, but she couldn’t speak.’
The staff member said he called the police, who instructed him to call an ambulance. Before he had the chance to do so, however, a couple of friends arrived at the bar and took Nicole away.
She was found dead after apparently falling asleep on the back seat of a car on a friend’s driveway. Wearing a hooded quilted jacket and Hunter wellington boots, she had spent the night in the car in sub-zero temperatures. Her body was found the next morning.
Nicole’s friends lament the fact that such a vibrant, beautiful woman in her prime should have lost her life in such a pointless way.
But given the tumultuous events of recent months, it seems true, too, that Nicole Falkingham’s dreams of living happily ever after perished long before her frozen body was found.
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